Tag Archives: elca

Maybe the ELCA should become Lutheran

I listened to a lecture for class yesterday by Dr. Walter Sundberg that included some great quotes that give a hint of Luther’s ecclesiology. The radicalness of his vision for the church, especially considering the authoritarian hierarchy of the day, is remarkable. Does the ELCA want some suggestions for a way forward, a way of changing the trend of decades of declining membership? Perhaps it should look back to Luther.

The local church may call and ordain who it wills, whether or not they done their “Lutheran year” at an ELCA seminary or not even gone to seminary at all, as long as the pastor has been properly examined:

Neither Titus nor Timothy nor Paul ever instituted a priest without the congregation’s election and call. This is clearly proven by the sayings in Titus 1 [:7] and Timothy 3 [:10], “A bishop or priest should be blameless,” and, “Let the deacon be tested first.” Now Titus could not have known which ones were blameless; such a report must come from the congregation, which must name the man.

Again, we even read in Acts 4 [6:1-6] regarding an even lesser office, that the apostles were not permitted to institute persons as deacons without the knowledge and consent of the congregation. Rather, the congregation elected and called the seven deacons, and the apostles confirmed them. If, then, the apostles were not permitted to institute, on their own authority, an office having to do only with the distribution of temporal food, how could they have dared to impose the highest office of preaching on anyone by their own power without the knowledge, will, and call of the congregation? (LW 39, 312)

To ordain is not to consecrate. Therefore if we know a pious man, we bring him forward, and by the power of the Word which we have, we give him authority to preach the Word and to give the sacraments. This is to ordain. . .On the basis of ordination it is established as a result of election that, for the sake of order, not everyone should have the desire to preach. Thus they have the obligation to perform their ministry, but not perpetually. Today we can commit it to him, tomorrow we can take it away. (Sermon from 1524 in WA 15, 721 (3) Quoted in Werner Elert, The Structure of Lutheranism, p. 347, note 13)

Anyone may preside over communion, baptize, and administer pastoral care according to the will and call of the local congregation:

. . .whoever has the office of preaching imposed on him has the highest office in Christendom imposed on him. Afterward he may also baptize, celebrate mass, and exercise all pastoral care; or, if he does not wish to do so, he may confine himself to preaching and leave baptizing and other lower offices to others—as Christ and all the apostles in Acts 4 [6.4]. (LW, 39, 314)

On small groups, house churches, and cell churches:

a truly evangelical order [that] should not be held in a public place for all sorts of people. But those who want to be Christians in earnest and who profess the gospel with hand and mouth should sign their names and meet alone in a house somewhere to pray, to read, to baptize, to receive the sacrament, and to do other Christian works. According to this order, those who do not lead Christian lives could be known, reproved, corrected, cast out, or excommunicated, according to the rule of Christ, Matthew 18 [:15-17]. Here one could also solicit benevolent gifts to be willingly given. . .Here would be no need of much and elaborate singing. Here one could set up a neat and brief order for baptism and the sacrament and center everything on Word, prayer, and love. (LW 53, 63-64)

The local church may allow anyone to preach:

St. Paul gives every Christian the power to teach among Christians if there is a need, saying, `You can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be admonished’ [I Cor. 14:31]. Again, `You should earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; but all things should be done decently and in order’ [I Cor. 14: 39-40].

Let this passage be your sure foundation, because it gives such an overwhelming power to the Christian congregation to preach, to permit preaching, and to call. (LW 39, 311)

And if the ELCA continues to require structures that are hindrances to the gospel, the quote below gives direction for churches:

[W]herever there is a Christian congregation in possession of the gospel, it not only has the right and power but also the duty—on pain of losing the salvation of its souls and in accordance with the promise made to Christ in baptism—to avoid, to flee, to depose and to withdraw from the authority that our bishops, abbots, monasteries, religious foundations, and the like are now exercising. For it is clearly evident that they teach and rule contrary to God and his word. (LW 39, 308)

Why do I think the above guidelines for congregations are helpful? Because I believe they will locate authority in local congregations, which will in turn make them more nimble, allow them to be more contextual, empower the laity, and free the church for mission. Many of the current structures hinder these things. It’s time to quit doing everything for the sake of order and to start doing things for the sake of the gospel.

The Church and the Rich Young Ruler

I’m going to be preaching later this fall, and the gospel text for that Sunday includes Mark 10:17-23. In an initial reading of the passage, I couldn’t help but wonder if today we need to be reading the passage something like this:

As Jesus started on his way, a pastor ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must our church do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these we have kept since we were young.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing your church lacks,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because his church had large buildings, many full-time staff, and valuable land.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

Is this one of the things this text is saying to us today?

In the ELCA, congregations take in almost $2 billion in giving annually and have around $20 billion in assets, presumably mostly in real estate. Should some of our congregations start selling off their assets?

2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly: Thoughts from One in the Minority

“With the vote today, there was no ontological change in the church catholic or the ELCA”

I am going to reveal my voting record pertaining to the resolutions regarding sexuality at this year’s ELCA Churchwide Assembly in order to hopefully offer some helpful perspective. I expect that my friends on both sides of the issue will be surprised with the way in which I voted. In a later post, I will explain in a bit more detail regarding why I voted the way I did, since it will likely seem irrational to many.

My votes:

  • Social Statement on Sexuality: Against
  • Resolution 1 (originally resolution 3, regarding respecting the bound conscience of all parties): For
  • Resolution 2 (regarding a desire to support and hold publicly accountable those in monogamous, lifelong same-gendered relationships): Against
  • Resolution 3 (regarding a desire to roster those in such relationships): Against
  • Resolution 4 (the practical outcome of rostering such persons): For

As many can see, in general, I was not in favor of the resolutions being brought before this assembly in relation to human sexuality. I voted in favor of Resolution 4 as a symbolic gesture to affirm my desire to stay within the ELCA even though I disagree with the actions taken by the assembly. An additional amendment was added to Resolution 4 that strengthened the protection of those in the minority on this matter. Because of this, I was compelled to stand alongside those with whom I disagree and say that I am willing to continue to be a church together with them and to offer my voice to them.

Some, both individuals and churches, will leave the the ELCA over this assembly’s actions, and I think that is unfortunate. On Twitter, someone said that, “The true Church is neither constituted or destroyed because of a vote. Where Christ is – there is the Church.” And I agree. With the vote today, there was no ontological change in the church catholic or the ELCA. This vote simply turned into “official” church policy that which was already taking place within the ELCA. Yes, there will be practical implications of this decision today. But Hope Lutheran Church, where I serve, can continue to preach with conviction our interpretation of scripture, to feed the hungry, to worship God, to minister to and with our youth, and every other good work of mission and ministry that we are already doing. At this point, we are not being asked to act contrary to our deeply held convictions, and I believe we should stay within this national church body.

Martin Luther himself remained within the Roman Catholic church until it was clear to him that his ability to proclaim the gospel was being hindered by remaining within that body. I would admonish those in the ELCA who are now on the side of the minority on this issue to do the same.

Transforming Churches into Mission Centers: Rethinking Ordination

I’m at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly as a voting member, and there has been some very encouraging discussion on the requirement for the church to become a missional church. Those of us in emergent/missional conversations know this to already be true, but making this a strong emphasis across a mainline national church body is a welcome move.

However, I wonder how serious we are willing to become a missional church.

There is enough controversy at this assembly with the sexuality debate before us, but there is another controversial debate that this church must wage in order to become driven by God’s mission. It is an ecclesiological debate that effects the very fabric of local congregations and their practice of the faith as a community. It is a huge structural, logistical, and bureaucratic nightmare to even think about addressing. But if we do not begin to ask these questions, we will not enact foundational change in local congregations.

Ordination must be rethought.

If we are going to be a church free to move swiftly with the movement of the Spirit, a church that takes seriously the priesthood of all believers, a church rooted in local community, a church that believes that all are called by God and equipped for ministry, then the current structural handcuffs that go along with ordination, seminary, the call process, the sacraments, and the host of other issues related to ecclesiology must be removed.

I know the implications of this suggestion. I have lots of further thoughts, but don’t have the time to spell them out right now. This is a debate that will eventually be had, but I am simply advocating we have this debate before it is too late.

I’ve considered proposing a resolution to the assembly to begin a process to re-evaluate our ecclesiology, especially concerning ordination, but don’t think that I will have the time to do the necessary legwork before the deadline tomorrow morning. I would surely be defeated, but would put the issue before a host of people to whom it matters most.

I welcome your thoughts. More to come from me later.

Adventures in Ecclesiology: ELCA Churchwide Assembly

Photo 1.jpg Some of you may or may not know this, but I am a voting member in next week’s ELCA Churchwide Assembly. Because of that, I received about 500 pages worth of the Pre-Assembly Report in the mail a few weeks ago. It’s filled with reports from churchwide officers and offices, recommendations for action, information about procedures, the ELCA Constitution and Continuing Resolutions, and on and on. As a voting member of this assembly, I am quite conflicted.

My gut instinct says that this is not the way the church is supposed to operate. The church is not stacks of paper dictated by Robert’s Rule of Order where the majority always gets their way. And yet, on the other hand, when you are talking about coordinating efforts between massive groups of people, is there really any other way? When missional activities involve millions of dollars and millions of people, doesn’t that necessitate a slow-moving bureaucracy?

For example, one of the great things we are considering is our participation in a serious effort to fight malaria in Africa, an effort that spans across churches other than the ELCA and requires a commitment of tens of millions of dollars. Obviously, to make any significant dent in this disease across a whole continent requires a massive undertaking. I’m not sure that a bunch of independent local churches could coordinate this sort of large-scale initiative. Perhaps I’m wrong.

So, I am going into this assembly with an open mind. While my instincts tell me this is not the way a church should be structured, I am open to being proved wrong. This will be an interesting adventure in ecclesiology.

What about you? Is denominational bureaucracy a two-edged sword? Is there an alternative, especially as it relates to large-scale efforts?

Why We're Not Going to the ELCA Youth Gathering

Disclaimer: Read this First! November 11, 2007, I wrote the original version of the post below as part of a larger series on a new way to do youth ministry. I have copied and pasted it with a few slight edits to make it applicable to this year’s ELCA Youth Gathering. So, please understand that my impetus for writing this originally was not to launch an offensive against the Gathering. But since there has been a lot of buzz about the Gathering as it approached, I thought reworking that original post would be a timely contribution to the conversation. I have more thoughts, and may share them if necessary.

I am quite skeptical of the big-event circuit in American youth ministry. Here’s the typical recipe:

  • Large stadium (anywhere from 3,000-60,000 people)
  • “National speakers” (whatever that means)
  • The “hottest” Christian bands (if DCB isn’t on the docket, don’t even bother). If you’re Lutheran, Lost & Found is a must.
  • Maybe some dramas or comedians (or both)
  • Extremely expensive A/V systems, lights, lasers, smoke machines, etc.

Events like this bother me for a few reasons:

  • The first problem is that for whatever reason these events tend to become normative for the Christian life. Students who go to events like this think that the Christian life is the most real, most alive, most vibrant at events like these. Faithfulness to God is associated with emotional highs and feel-goodyness. We are left thinking that God is not present in homework, chores, friendship squabbles, and other stuff of “real life.” (By the way, Eugene Peterson has been instrumental in helping me develop a theology of the everyday. You must read him. Everything he has written. No joke. I’m working my way through his stuff.)
  • Because of the above, I am worried that these events are put on by organizations that must turn a profit in order to stay alive. When normalcy is determined by a group of people who must make X amount of dollars to sustain themselves, I get nervous. (I’ll take this point to say that churches are a little different in that they (should) rely on gifts, not selling things, to sustain themselves. However, I do believe that most churches operate at much too narrow of margins.)
  • These events are divorced from local contexts. Identical events happen in Louisiana, California, Florida, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.
  • In my experience, these events appeal to the emotions, but not the passions, of teenagers. Teenagers are extremely passionate people, and we should be tapping into that passion. But passion is different than emotion. Emotions tend to be the end. People think the emotion is real. Passion tends to spur action and impact. (This isn’t very well thought out, but I’m leaving it in.)
  • You shouldn’t have to pay $1,000 per person to get “recharged” once every three years. I remember going on a certain trip every summer that was quite expensive, but my friends and I looked forward to it because it was where we got recharged every year. But recently I have been thinking about practicing sustainable faith. If our faith is based off of one yearly event, we aren’t sustaining ourselves throughout the year. There is something missing in much of our ministries when we and our students aren’t practicing the kind of faith that can sustain them in their everyday lives.
  • Many of these events are quite repetitive in nature. They don’t change much from year to year and have almost identical messages. I know of one specific “national” youth event has been saying the same thing for the past 10 years.
  • They all claim to change your youth group’s lives. If they really did, they would work themselves out of a job.
  • These events create Christian celebrities. There is no need for Christian celebrities. Period. Yes, there are certain people whose wisdom and discernment can change the landscape of Christianity, but that is because they have been gifted by God, not because they are just “really cool.”

Instead of “outsourcing” our big events to organizations that don’t know us, our kids, our churches, and all the rest, we should strive to make our ministries local and contextual. My favorite way of going about this for “big events” is retreats. I think retreats planned by people in our churches are great ways to connect at a deeper level with our kids. You also get to spend a lot more time with your kids at a retreat than at a large event where your behind is stuck in a chair all day. In fact (and I didn’t plan it this way on purpose, I just realized it as I was writing this post), as thousands of youth are in New Orleans for the ELCA Youth Gathering, I will be with my youth and adults on a Peer Ministry training retreat. Cost per person: $10 plus a little money in the youth ministry budget.

This might be a good time to make a disclaimer that I’ve made before: in no way am I questioning the purity of motivation of people who organize, lead, or attend events like this. I believe most people love Jesus deeply and are trying to do what they can to follow him. I simply think that pure motivation isn’t enough. We aren’t given the scriptures for motivation, but for obedience (among other things). If youth ministry is going to change, that means that we will have to quit doing some things that we used to do. For me, that means steering clear of big events.

Local. Contextual. Yeah, your kids might not get butterflies in their stomachs from being so close to the stage that David Crowder was spitting on them, but I think that’s a good thing.

ELCA Names

I’ve noticed since joining an ELCA church three years ago that the groups in the ELCA do not seem compelled like other Christian groups to come up with cool names for their organizations. You know, some might call their older groups something catchy like “Prime Time.” In the ELCA, it seems like we use only functional, descriptive names. Some are almost comical:

This isn’t an indictment or anything, but an observation. All groups have their quirks. This might be one of ours.

What groups did I leave out?

The ELCA's Brand Campaign

Last week the ELCA announced the launch of a brand campaign, which immediately caught my attention. You can view all of the ads that the ELCA will be running in various television, print, outdoor, and online advertisements by clicking here. I must say that as far as church advertisements go, these are actually pretty good. The advertisements are quite kerygmatic in nature, proclaiming the work being done in the ELCA rather than trying to entice people to join our churches. If I were going to advertise a church, I would likely take a similar approach. Of course, the question becomes whether I would advertise at all.

However, there were some interesting comments made in the press release regarding this brand campaign:

The purpose of the ELCA brand campaign is to grow awareness of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and inspire members to invite others to a worship service.

We could debate whether “growing awareness” has anything to do with evangelism or mission, but I really caught on to the assertion that these advertisements were meant to “inspire members to invite others to a worship service.” The reason that I am so intrigued by this is because the goal is completely separated from the means. The brand campaign focuses solely on the work being done by the ELCA on behalf of God (“Gods work. Our hands.”): feeding the homeless, training literacy to African women, providing medical training, rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina. How this missional emphasis in the advertisements would inspire regular members to invite people to sit in a sanctuary and listen to a sermon and sing to an organ is beyond me. Are we still caught in the mindset that inviting people to a worship service is what is meant when Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations”?

I would have rather seen the money spent on these advertisements go towards grants that inspire and facilitate the kind of missional acts of service that are highlighted in the campaign. Churches who can barely afford to pay a pastor might be able to feed the hungry in their town, to train people in a trade, or to offer financial counseling and resources in these economic times. Would that not also grow awareness of the ELCA and inspire people to serve, love, and sacrifice for one another?

Why are Politics and Theology Directly Related?

I find it interesting as I read blogs of people of certain theological persuasions during election season because you tend to learn their political leanings as well.  In reading through the various blogs this year I’ve noticed that most people on the more liberal end of the theological spectrum are liberal politically, and conservatives are the other way around.

Is there anything intrinsic within the different theological positions that gravitate people towards certain political opinions?  Why can’t someone more theologically liberal take the opinion that while they staunchly believe in the gospel in all its social outworking that the government is the least qualified institution to administer the social gospel?  Is our ecclesiology that weak?  Have those from both ends of the theological spectrum given up on the church as an agent of change in the world and retreated to government solve the world’s problems?  I just don’t see how fiscal discipline, limited government, and personal responsibility are antithetical to liberal theology.

I recently saw a quote from Bono about using $700 billion to bailout Wall Street but we couldn’t find $25 billion to help stop preventable diseases.  What ever happened to the church?  In the ELCA alone, members gave $2.3 billion in offerings to their congregations. The ELCA is sitting on $20.6 billion in assets.  Do we not have some resources to spare?